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Cal running backs of the BCS era: J.J. Arrington, Marshawn Lynch, Justin Forsett, Jahvid Best, Shane Vereen…

Ron Gould left a legacy.

Jonathan Ferrey

This post may seem familiar to some of you from our All-Decade. A few revisions have been made.

8. Adimchinobi Echemandu (306 carries, 1434 rushing yards, 16 touchdowns)

In a decade filled with great Cal runners, Echi slips through the cracks. But he had his share of fine performances. He tore up the 2003 Trojans for 34 carries and 147 yards, with 182 yards overall. A 200 yard game against the Wildcats in a 42-14 stomping. Five hundred yard games and first team All Pac-10 in 2003.

Unfortunately, injuries never let him get on track, neither in college nor in the pros. But after being plagued by early academic issues, he managed to get his degree in sociology from Cal.

7. Isi Sofele (479 carries, 2499 yards, 15 touchdowns; 21 receptions, 154 yards, 2 touchdowns).

Isi had a memorable 2011 campaign, grinding out 100 yards a game on an offense that wasn’t quite yet ready to torpedo itself into the ocean.  He was also one of the most devastating pass protecting running backs I’ve ever seen, obliterating blitzers. This guy is my height. I am not tall.  Never give up short people.

6. Joe Igber (678 carries, 3124 rushing yards, 16 TDs, 86 receptions, 755 receiving yards, 7 TDs)

Igber gets lost in the cracks among best Golden Bear running backs, but that was because he played his first three seasons on some dreadful Tom Holmoe teams. When Tedford arrived in 2002, Igber finally broke out with a thousand yard season in his senior campaign. As a four year starter, he saw action in every campaign. And he saved his best for last, providing us with perhaps the greatest individual Big Game performance of the decade.

Plus he got his degree. Civil engineering to boot. Went to grad school. True Golden Bear.

5. Shane Vereen (556 carries, 2834 yards, 29 touchdowns; 74 receptions, 674 yards, 6 touchdowns)

You know you’re in good shape when you have Bill Belichick running special plays for you and you’re sixth on this list. One could argue he was the most valuable second back of the two man platoons we deployed with Arrington-Lynch, Lynch-Forsett, etc. Only Vereen actually had to take over the running load for a substantial portion of those games with Best's injuries (starting one game last year, four this season), with Cal winning three of those five.

Vereen took over as the main back in 2010, and had some great moments that were unfortunately overshadowed by a subpar passing game that submarined our chances at a winning season. He is definitely a top-five back on this list though; he was good at putting the football in the end zone and is probably the best pass catcher on this list.

4. Justin Forsett (567 carries, 3220 yards, 26 TDs; 41 carries, 386 yards, 1 TD)

Perhaps the best second back  we ever had (he put up nearly had a thousand yards in his 2005 season), the Force emerged into his own in 2007 with a solid 1500 yard campaign, keeping Cal's stagnating offense going when the rest of the team seemed to fall off efficiency-wise. Although his rushing totals were never spectacular, he was perhaps one of the best blocking backs we've ever had and one of the few backs Tedford handed off the majority of the carries to for one season (rather than relying on the dual-running back system). His blocking keeps him in the NFL as a situational third down back!

Forsett would excel in whatever role he was given by his team, whether it be pass catcher, primary ball-carrier, second back, pass blocker, etc. He would become one of the team’s best closers—in the fourth quarter, you could hand Forsett the ball six to eight times and he’d give you a few first downs to run that clock out. 

3. JJ Arrington (396 carries, 2625 yards, 20 TDs; 42 receptions, 299 yards, 3 TDs)

It’s very difficult to decide where to rank JJ--the rest of these guys were better for longer periods, and Arrington undoubtedly had the best offensive line. Counter: Arrington submitted undoubtedly the greatest single season in Cal running back history, dwarfing any other single season by any of the other guys on this list. Hell, it's the tenth best yardwise in NCAA history. Twelve games, all 100 yards and more, eight games of 160 yards or more, two games of 200 yards or more, another one of 250 yards or more...he was nothing but a model of consistency. When will you ever see anyone rush for 2018 yards in 12 games again?

Curiously, he was snubbed an invite to the Heisman Trophy campaign. I don't get annoyed much by that stupid award, but JJ should've gotten his due to New York City. Rodgers was great, but Arrington was the motor of our team in 2004.
Still, third on this list feels right. And it was pretty unanimous among us.

2. Jahvid Best (364 carries, 2668 yards, 29 TDs, 62 receptions, 533 yards, 6 TDs)

One of the most electric athletes to ever play at Cal. If he didn't seem to be a magnet for freakish injuries, he would've knocked down that 3000 yard mark in barely two seasons of starting play. He was the closest anyone ever got to replicating Arrington's production over a longer stretch. Too many good games and runs to remember. It was like imagining Usain Bolt play football. That's what watching Best was like.

It’s good to have Jahvid back at Cal after all he’s been through, and here’s hoping he has a long and healthy career in whatever he ends up doing next.

1. Marshawn Lynch (490 carries, 3230 yards, 29 TDs; 68 receptions, 600 yards, 6 TDs)

He’s the second leading all time Cal rusher of all time. 2006 Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year. 17 100 yard rushing games. Spawned the Beast Mode phrase. Has his own rap song. The most impressive athlete Jeff Tedford has ever coached (and that's saying something).  Certainly the most pro-ready when he left. And after years of floating around the league, he’s exploded into one of the most popular NFL players out there with the Seattle Seahawks, winning a Super Bowl this past season.

During Arrington's amazing 2000 yard season, there were times where Lynch looked BETTER as a frosh than JJ. He averaged 8.85 yards per carry and a 120 yard performance in the Big Game on NINE carries. And he just kept on going from there. He nearly singlehandedly brought the Bears their first victory in Autzen in two decades. He ran over the Stormin Mormons in the Las Vegas Bowl. He kept Cal's Rose Bowl hopes alive in the Washington comeback, stepping all over the Huskies.

Then he went ghost riding.


In Gould's long and successful tenure as Cal's running back coach, he never coached anyone as good as Marshawn.